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Jesse York v. Darrel G. Adams


September 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The matter has been referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rules 302 and 304. Pending before the Court is the petition, which was filed on September 7, 2011.

I. Screening the Petition

Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (Habeas Rules) requires the Court to make a preliminary review of each petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court must summarily dismiss a petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court...." Habeas Rule 4; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990). Habeas Rule 2(c) requires that a petition 1) specify all grounds of relief available to the Petitioner; 2) state the facts supporting each ground; and 3) state the relief requested. Notice pleading is not sufficient; rather, the petition must state facts that point to a real possibility of constitutional error. Rule 4, Advisory Committee Notes, 1976 Adoption; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d at 420 (quoting Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 75 n.7 (1977)). Allegations in a petition that are vague, conclusory, or palpably incredible are subject to summary dismissal. Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490, 491 (9th Cir. 1990).

Further, the Court may dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus either on its own motion under Habeas Rule 4, pursuant to the respondent's motion to dismiss, or after an answer to the petition has been filed. Advisory Committee Notes to Habeas Rule 8, 1976 Adoption; see, Herbst v. Cook, 260 F.3d 1039, 1042-43 (9th Cir. 2001).

Here, Petitioner alleges that he is an inmate of the California State Prison at Corcoran, California (CSPC); Petitioner does not indicate the length of his sentence or his commitment offense. Petitioner challenges administrative action of prison authorities that occurred in October 2008 which resulted in Petitioner's being validated as an associate of the Mexican Mafia prison gang and placed in administrative segregation for six years. The validation was based on four items: possession of a small piece of paper from a validated Mexican Mafia member; a tattoo on Petitioner's finger of a symbol which represents the number "13," indicating the Mexican Mafia; possession of a birthday card containing a drawing of the symbol near Petitioner's moniker; and Petitioner's mother's having sent a money order to a prisoner known to be a validated associate of the Mexican Mafia.

Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of the gang validation process, arguing 1) the evidence relied upon was insufficient and unreliable, 2) the pertinent state regulations are vague and overbroad and result in infringement of Petitioner's freedom of speech and action; and 3) the regulatory process permitting segregation of gang members constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Because the petition was filed after April 24, 1996, the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the AEDPA applies in this proceeding. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 327 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1008 (1997); Furman v. Wood, 190 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 1999).

This Court has a duty to determine its own subject matter jurisdiction, and lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be raised on the Court's own motion at any time. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3); CSIBI v. Fustos, 670 F.2d 134, 136 n.3 (9th Cir. 1982) (citing City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 511-512 (1973)).

A district court may entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court only on the ground that the custody is in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(a), 2241(c)(3); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n.7 (2000); Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. --, -, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (2010) (per curiam).

Claims challenging the validity of a prisoner's continued incarceration, including the fact or length of the custody, are within the "heart of habeas corpus" and are cognizable only in federal habeas corpus. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99, 499 n.14 (1973). In contrast, an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is appropriate for a state prisoner challenging the conditions of prison life but not the fact or length of the custody. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 499; Badea v. Cox, 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir. 1991).

With respect to prison disciplinary proceedings, it is established that a constitutional claim concerning the application of rules administered by a prison or penal administrator that challenges the duration of a sentence is a cognizable claim of being in custody in violation of the Constitution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See, e.g., Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985) (determining a procedural due process claim concerning loss of time credits resulting from disciplinary procedures and findings). The Supreme Court has held that challenges to prison disciplinary adjudications that have resulted in a loss of time credits must be raised in a federal habeas corpus action and not in a § 1983 action because such a challenge is to the very fact or duration of physical imprisonment, and the relief sought is a determination of entitlement of immediate or speedier release. Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500.

The Supreme Court's decisions concerning the limits of habeas jurisdiction and § 1983 jurisdiction have been rendered in cases involving § 1983 proceedings. Thus, it is established that regardless of the precise relief sought, an action pursuant to § 1983 concerning prison administrative processes is barred if success in the action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of the confinement or its duration, or necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (parole processes). However, the limits on habeas jurisdiction, or the appropriate extent of any overlap between habeas and § 1983, has not been definitively addressed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has adverted to the possibility of habeas as a potential alternative remedy to an action under § 1983 for unspecified additional and unconstitutional restraints during lawful custody, Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. at 499-500, but it has declined to address whether a writ of habeas corpus may be used to challenge conditions of confinement as distinct from the fact or length of confinement itself, see, Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 527 n.6 (1979).

Nevertheless, the Court continues to recognize a "core" of habeas corpus that refers to suits where success would inevitably affect the legality or duration of confinement. For example, in Wilkinson, the Court noted that if success on a claim would mean at most a new opportunity for review of parole eligibility, or a new parole hearing at which authorities could discretionarily decline to shorten a prison term, then success would not inevitably lead to release, and the suit would not lie at the core of habeas corpus. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 82.

In the singular context of parole, cases in this circuit have recognized a possibility of habeas jurisdiction in suits that do not fall within the core of habeas corpus. Bostic v. Carlson, 884 F.3d 1267 (9th Cir. 1989) (expungement of a disciplinary finding likely to accelerate eligibility for parole)*fn1 ; Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2004) (a claim challenging the constitutionality of the frequency of parole reviews, where the prisoner was seeking only equitable relief, was held sufficiently related to the duration of confinement). However, relief pursuant to § 1983 remains an appropriate remedy for claims concerning administrative decisions made in prison where success would not necessarily imply the validity of continuing confinement. Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d at 1030 (characterizing Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818 (9th Cir. 1997) as holding that a § 1983 suit is an appropriate remedy for challenges to conditions that do not necessarily imply the invalidity of continuing confinement).

Nevertheless, it is established in this circuit that where a successful challenge to a disciplinary hearing or administrative sanction will not necessarily shorten the overall length of confinement, then habeas jurisdiction is lacking. In Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850 (9th Cir. 2003), a prisoner sought relief pursuant to § 1983 for allegedly unconstitutional disciplinary proceedings that resulted in administrative segregation. It was held that § 1983 was the appropriate remedy because the alleged constitutional errors did not affect the overall length of the prisoner's confinement; success in the § 1983 action would not necessarily result in an earlier release from incarceration, and the § 1983 suit did not intrude upon the core or "heart" of habeas jurisdiction. Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 852, 858.

The court in Ramirez went further and considered the related question of the extent of habeas corpus jurisdiction, expressly stating that its holding "also clarifies our prior decisions addressing the availability of habeas corpus to challenge the conditions of imprisonment." 334 F.3d at 858. The court reviewed the decisions in Bostic v. Carlson and Neal v. Shimoda and concluded as follows:

Our decision in Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818 (9th Cir.1997), illustrates the importance of measuring the likelihood that a suit under § 1983 will affect the length of the prisoner's confinement. In Neal, two state prisoners filed suits under § 1983 alleging that they were classified as sex offenders in violation of the Due Process and Ex Post Facto guarantees. Id. at 822-23. Among other harms, both inmates argued that the Id. classification affected their eligibility for parole.

We held that Heck did not require the inmates to invalidate their classification before bringing suit under § 1983, because a favorable judgment "will in no way guarantee parole or necessarily shorten their prison sentences by a single day." Id. at 824. The prisoner suits did not seek to overturn a disciplinary decision that increased their period of incarceration. Rather, a successful § 1983 action would provide only "a ticket to get in the door of the parole board." Id. A favorable judgment, therefore, would not "undermine the validity of their convictions," or alter the calculus for their possible parole. Id.

Neal makes clear that under Preiser habeas jurisdiction is proper where a challenge to prison conditions would, if successful, necessarily accelerate the prisoner's release. Thus, Neal accords with our holding here that habeas jurisdiction is absent, and a § 1983 action proper, where a successful challenge to a prison condition will not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence.

Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 858-59.

Thus, habeas jurisdiction might be present to adjudicate some conditions claims affecting parole if there is a sufficient nexus to the length of imprisonment to demonstrate a sufficient likelihood of affecting the overall length of a prisoner's confinement. Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d at 1030-31. However, the court has emphasized that measurement of the likelihood will result in an absence of habeas jurisdiction where the challenge will not necessarily shorten the overall sentence. Ramirez, 334

F.3d at 859. In Ramirez, expungement of the disciplinary action was not shown to be likely to accelerate eligibility for parole; rather, success there would have meant only an opportunity to seek parole from a board that could deny parole on any ground already available to it. Thus, the suit did not threaten to advance the parole date. Id. at 859.

In this case, Petitioner alleges that he has been housed in the security housing unit as a result of a gang validation finding which Petitioner alleges was unsupported by reliable evidence and was the result of numerous constitutional violations. However, Petitioner's allegations concern only the conditions of his confinement. Petitioner does not allege facts that point to a real possibility of constitutional error that affected the legality or duration of his confinement. Thus, Petitioner has not alleged facts that would entitle him to habeas relief. It will therefore be recommended that the petition be dismissed.

A petition for habeas corpus should not be dismissed without leave to amend unless it appears that no tenable claim for relief can be pleaded were such leave granted. Jarvis v. Nelson, 440 F.2d 13, 14 (9th Cir. 1971).

Here, although Petitioner has not alleged facts that would entitle him to relief, it is possible that Petitioner could allege such facts. Accordingly, Petitioner will be granted leave to file a first amended petition.

III. Amendment of the Petition

The instant petition must be dismissed for the reasons stated above. Petitioner will be given an opportunity to file a first amended petition to cure the deficiencies. Petitioner is advised that failure to file a petition in compliance with this order (i.e., a completed petition with cognizable federal claims clearly stated and with exhaustion of state remedies clearly stated) within the allotted time will result in a recommendation that the petition be dismissed and the action be terminated. Petitioner is advised that the amended petition should be entitled, "First Amended Petition," and it must refer to the case number in this action. Further, Petitioner is informed that Local Rule 220 provides that unless prior approval to the contrary is obtained from the Court, every pleading as to which an amendment or supplement is permitted shall be retyped or rewritten and filed so that it is complete in itself without reference to the prior or superseded pleading.

IV. Disposition

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that:

1) The petition for writ of habeas corpus is DISMISSED with 9 leave to amend; and

2) Petitioner is GRANTED thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order to file a first amended petition in compliance with this order; and

3) The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to send Petitioner a form petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

Petitioner is INFORMED that a failure to file a timely first amended petition in compliance with this order will be considered to be a failure to comply with an order of the Court within the meaning of Local Rule 110 and will result in dismissal of the petition.


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